Curtain Up on Rebel Artist

dancers_muenchner Kammerspiele
Dancers at Munich's Kammerspiele.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Unconventional artistic director Matthias Lilienthal is raising eyebrows at the traditional Munich Kammerspiele.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Lilienthal built art huts throughout Munich to bring theater to the people.
    • In honor of refugees, he also convened an “Open Border Congress” and temporarily renamed the Kammerspiele as the “Munich Welcome Theater.”
    • His first season opens with Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and “Ode to Joy,” an examination of the 1972 terror attack at the Munich Olympic games.
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It’s unclear just what the aging regulars make of the baggy jeans, the hoodie or the larger-than-life physique.

But one thing long time theatergoers at Munich’s Kammerspiele know for certain: The new artistic director Matthias Lilienthal has come to shake things up.

Sometimes, Mr. Lilienthal tries to slip in unnoticed among his audiences. But he doesn’t manage it because he stands out in the section reserved for paying subscribers – affectionately nicknamed “the silver forest.”

They seem to feel happier when he’s there, perhaps because they think he’ll protect them from the insanity playing out on the stage.

His mission was to “perform theater without money.” But secretly he always waited for a big city to offer him its theater.

And they have every reason to be nervous.

The first thing Mr. Lilienthal did after taking up his new post in Munich earlier this year was to put up 24 theater “huts” throughout the city.

The so-called “shabby shabby apartments” experiment aimed at bringing the theater to the people.

A series of roadside igloos, cloth tents and bivouacs on traffic islands was also intended as a commentary on Munich’s overheated real estate market.

Then, when in the summer floods of refugees began arriving in Munich, the art huts were seen as both cynical and prophetic.

Mr. Lilienthal had arrived in the Munich public eye.


thater_muich_Muenchner Kammerspiele
Theater takes on the issues of the day. Source: Münchner Kammerspiele, Andrea Huber


For his next stunt, he temporarily renamed the Kammerspiele as the “Munich Welcome Theater.” Last weekend, he held an “Open Border Congress” including, puportedly, a meeting of people traffickers wanting to learn about how to bring refugees to Europe more safely.

In just a few months, Mr. Lilienthal has generated more dark authority than any other Munich artistic director managed in years. But now that the actual season is beginning, what will happen in Mr. Lilienthal’s Kammerspiele?

His unconventional appearance aside, Mr. Lilienthal has a solid reputation in the world of German theater. Together with postdramatic director Frank Carstof, known for his deliberately incoherent productions, he helped earn the Berlin Volksbühne its reputation as Germany’s most provocative theater.

After that, he became artistic director at Berlin’s Hebbel am Uffer, HAU, playhouse, the most productive venue on the capital’s “free theater” scene.

First developed in the 1960s, Germany’s free theater movement is made up of groups, individuals and free theater houses scraping a living on very little funding. For Mr. Lilienthal, the mission was to “make theater without money.”

But secretly, he was always waiting for a big city to offer him a prestigious theater.

No matter that Mr. Lilienthal always described bourgeois theater as “boarded up city theater boxes,” where actors performed on stage as if they were alone in a room with no one watching. “Art crap,” he called it.

But Mr. Lilienthal’s time was to come, as the audiences drained away and bigger, conventional theaters scouted around for ways to generate new excitement.

His first two productions at the Kammerspiele are Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and “Ode to Joy,” an examination of the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attack, both irrevantly unconventional.

The regulars will be shaking in their seats.


 This article originally appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author:


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